Pittsburg children are just as concerned about their community as their parents, and they told mayor John Ketterman as much Wednesday morning.

Pittsburg children are just as concerned about their community as their parents, and they told mayor John Ketterman as much Wednesday morning.

Their ideas about how to fix the problems might be a little naive, but the students in Westside Elementary School fifth grade teacher Sarah Prince’s class share many of the same grievances as adult Pittsburg residents. As part of her persuasive writing class, Prince each year has her students write letters to their principal and whomever the current mayor happens to be, outlining their concerns and why they think the problems need to be addressed. Ketterman decided after reading the students’ letters that he wanted to visit with them in person.

“He called me and said he wanted to come by,” Prince said. “They were really nervous.”

Prince said she uses the exercise to help her students learn, but also to give them a sense of belonging.

“They’re getting ready to go into middle school, and they feel more ownership in their community and want to feel like their voices are being heard,” Prince said.
The concerns were many, ranging from the need for more variety in the town’s restaurant scene to the need for more police officers and more jobs.

“We work hard every day at trying to get more jobs in town,” Ketterman said, adding that a company, which he did not name, might be relocating to Pittsburg in the future. “We’re trying to get a new vo-tech school here, too. It’s a tough proposition, but we’re trying.”

Another student, who wants to be an architect, asked Ketterman why the city hasn’t made college tuition less expensive. Ketterman explained that the city doesn’t control school funding, but that representatives are pushing hard in Topeka for more money.

“We still go up there and argue about it, but I don’t know if it’ll do any good,” Ketterman said.

One of Prince’s students mentioned that one of his friends had been hurt when he accidentally ran over a pothole on his street. Another student complained about suspicious men lurking in the parks. One student asked about keeping the Southeast Kansas Humane Society shelter open a little later so the K-Kids — a Kiwanis-affiliated group — could do service projects there after school. Ketterman said he had already spoken to city officials, and that they were working on a plan to make that happen.

On his end, Ketterman said he feels it’s his duty as mayor to respond to students when they reach out to him.

“If they take the time to write the letter, I think it’s our obligation to take the time to come visit with them,” Ketterman said.

The students have legitimate complaints, Ketterman said, and he learned a few things from their letters.

“There are some issues that we need to check out, like the guy in the park just walking around and people driving on the walking paths,” Ketterman said. “It’s refreshing that the younger generation is interested in these kinds of situations.”